Lander picked the perfect time to play its best basketball of the weekend.
The Tigers built an early lead and overwhelmed Powell 58-40 to win the Wyoming State High School Class 3A Boys Basketball Championship on Saturday at the Casper Events Center. The title is Lander’s first since 2008.
“This is unbelievable,” Lander sophomore Bryan St. Clair said. “To send these seniors out with a championship is the best feeling.”
After Lander’s Max Mazurie and Powell’s Jesse Brown traded 3-pointers to open the scoring, Tigers’ senior Antonio Coando and junior Niieihii Black combined to give Lander an 11-4 lead. Coando assisted on four of the Tigers’ first five baskets and Black had six of his team-high 13 points during that span.
St. Clair was part of the Tigers’ second unit that continued to build the lead once they entered the game. Junior Ozaddie O’Neal scored on a drive to the rim and St. Clair hit a follow-shot just before the end of the first quarter to give Lander a 15-6 lead.
That momentum carried over to the second quarter as O’Neal hit a short jumper, St. Clair scored on a drive and a mid-range jumper and senior Conrad Swenson had a putback to extend the Tigers’ advantage to 23-8.
“This was a total team effort,” second-year Lander head coach Stu Mullins said. “These guys bought in to what we wanted to do defensively. And once those guys came in off the bench and kept it rolling I thought we were in good shape.”
Powell, which lost to Lander for the fourth time this season, trailed 30-17 at the half and seemed to have some momentum, but the Tigers quickly put an end to any thought the Panthers had of a comeback. Lander opened the third quarter on an 11-1 run, with Coando, Black and junior Ty Massey doing the damage.
Lander, which turned the ball over 26 times in its quarterfinal victory over Newcastle and needed a fourth-quarter surge to get by Wheatland in the semifinals, was hitting on all cylinders Saturday.
Late in the third quarter, St. Clair got the ball in transition and delivered a perfect behind-the-back bounce pass to Massey for the layup and a 49-23 lead.
“That felt amazing,” St. Clair said. “I saw Tyler and once I threw it to him, I knew he better finish it.”
Massey did. And so did the Tigers.
“We left it all on the court,” Coando said.
The same could be said for the Panthers, who surprised bu themselves by advancing to the title game. After defeating Torrington on Thursday, Powell knocked off defending state champ Buffalo in Friday’s semifinals.
“I think we just ran out of energy,” Powell head coach Chase Kistler said. “But I’m proud of the way these kids stuck together this weekend. We just tan into a great team tonight.”